12213438486?profile=RESIZE_710xCustomers at Sandwiches by the Sea in Delray Beach wait to place their orders with Ali Tartacoff and owner David Hunt. The shop first opened in the 1980s. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Jan Norris

After 22 years or so of making sandwiches a block off the ocean in Delray Beach, David Hunt cleaned and locked up the tiny Sandwiches by the Sea for good last month.

It was a financial decision. When he took over the shop from Pat Lynch and his family, who had opened it in the 1980s, his rent was around $1,500. That was a lot for a 350-square-foot space, he said, but he had much less competition on Atlantic Avenue.

“We did just fine then,” he said.

Now, however, the landlord is raising the rent. “I think he’s asking $3,500. That’s a lot of sandwiches. I’m not working for the landlord,” Hunt said.

The shop’s many fans were sad to hear this.

“It’s sad. I had my last sandwich the other day,” said Joseph Vashlishan, a retired city employee. “My usual — a roast beef. I always had the roast beef. Well, sometimes I’d change it up and get turkey or tuna fish, but I always came back to the roast beef. They had the best beef in the city.”

He had been getting his lunch there since the 1980s when he moved from New Jersey, and recalls a much different, sleepier city. “I remember when Power’s bar was the only thing open on the Avenue after 6 o’clock,” Vashlishan said.

Once he found the sandwich shop, he remained a loyal fan for decades. “It’s pure quality and simplicity. They roast their beef there in a set-it-and-forget-it oven. Always consistent. You always knew what you were getting.”

Linda Prior works at the First Presbyterian Church that sits right behind the shop. The ladies who gather at Holly House, the church’s boutique and gift shop, often order from there. She was surprised at the news of the closing.

“Oh, no! I’m sorry to hear that. I love their chicken salad on a roll with extra veggies,” Prior said. The other reasons she liked the shop: “They are fast and pleasant.”

12213441073?profile=RESIZE_710xSandwiches by the Sea owner David Hunt. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Hunt said the shop was so small, he had no choice but to be efficient. He had a limited menu of cold sandwiches and salads; no grill or flat top to make anything hot. He offered only one house-made drink — a frozen yogurt shake. It was simply frozen vanilla yogurt with or without strawberries, whirled in a blender with pineapple juice.

He did no catering. “It was just me most of the time,” with maybe a helper during the busiest times.

The most popular of the beach-monikered sandwiches was the Tidal Wave: roast beef, turkey, lettuce and tomato, Muenster cheese and Russian dressing on a sub roll. Another favorite was the Tsunami: corned beef, pastrami, lettuce, Swiss cheese and mustard.

The beef was roasted in-house, and all the sides and dressings made by Hunt, too. But not the bread. “It’s a secret. Let’s leave a little mystery for later,” he said.

Hunt laughed when talking about the Italian dressing that he went through by the gallons with teen customers ordering extra dressing. “I almost get mad at the kids — seems like they’re doing shots of it.”

At his busiest, he figures he turned out 400 sandwiches a day — probably in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. “There were lines wrapped around the building,” he said.

While other places took a hit during the pandemic, Hunt said he benefited by turning to takeout-only. He also worked with local companies to do delivery that year, but it became too much to handle and he quit it in season.

“We shut down the month of June 2020. I was absolutely wiped out,” he said. “I went home to Vermont.”

He said he noticed the last few years summer business has held steady. “More people are staying. And more are moving down from the Northeast.”

He had his regulars whom he knew not by name but by order. “Here comes roast beef, no lettuce, extra tomatoes.

“I have 200 customer orders in my head, but I’m terrible with names.”

Hunt was generous but quiet about it. “I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.” He’d feed people who came in looking down on their luck and hungry.

He recently was in Publix and a young woman called to him. He finally recognized her as someone he’d fed. She cried, he said, thanking him for helping lift her up.

Hunt gave a shout-out to all the kids who came in as youngsters with their parents and in later years brought their toddlers in.

“When you’ve been in one place 20 years, you get to know everybody,” he said. “A woman came in waving her daughter’s college essay — she wrote it about the shop.”

A chance of reopening elsewhere is possible, Hunt said, but for now, he’ll take some time off, staying in the area. He lives with his wife of 25 years in Delray Beach.

“I’m 46,” he said. “For now, I’m going to lay on the couch and ponder what I want to be when I grow up.”

12213439882?profile=RESIZE_710x12213440461?profile=RESIZE_400xRestaurant Month in Delray has dozens of participants. ABOVE: The Craft Food Tour makes stops at various restaurants. RIGHT: A burrito and side salad from Del Fuego, which opened this summer. Photos provided

Delray Restaurant Month
Twenty-two years ago this month, a group of restaurateurs got together to promote restaurants in New York City following the 9/11 attacks. It was an effort to boost the hospitality business with tourists absent.

In solidarity, cities across the U.S. joined in the movement, offering special deals of their own in September. It proved successful all around, and it’s become a tradition to find lunch and dinner deals on menus throughout the country for what has become Restaurant Month.

For the eighth year, a version of the promotion returns to Delray Beach, sponsored by the city’s Downtown Development Authority.

More than 35 restaurants and organizations are offering prix fixe lunches or dinners, discounts, or food experiences for Downtown Delray Beach Restaurant Month.

They include everything from a free cupcake with purchase at Two Fat Cookies to a special Dinner from the Movies — a multicourse meal at The Wine Room Kitchen and Bar on Sept. 28 with wines and cocktails inspired by great movie moments.

The program is a way to try out restaurants that are crowded in season, or that are new to the area such as Del Fuego. The Tex-Mex eatery on Atlantic east of the Intracoastal Waterway opened this summer to favorable reviews. Diners can get a three-course dinner there for $45 per person this month.

Restaurants range from fine dining as at Le Colonial, where a $65 three-course prix fixe is offered, to The Bridge Cafe, where a $10 breakfast sandwich with coffee is available.

BOGOs are on the list, too: At Death by Pizza, a Detroit-style pizzeria, there’s a BOGO on wings on Wednesdays. The chocolate shop Kilwins has BOGO on fudge pieces, and at the Original Popcorn House, you can buy one get one on mini popcorn bags and popcorn sundaes.

Get in on cooking lessons at Ramen Lab (dumpling making class, Sept. 28), or join the Craft Food Tour for either dinner or lunch at a special price.

For a complete list of participants and their deals, go to downtowndelraybeach.com/restaurantmonth.

Toasts, Tastes & Trolleys
The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum has brought back the popular fundraiser “Toasts, Tastes & Trolleys.” It’s a progressive-style dine-around, with trolley stops at six places around Boca and into Deerfield Beach.

Beginning with a reception at the Waterstone Resort & Marina, the trolley runs to Privaira Hangar, American Social, Sushi by Bou, The Boca Raton, and Cove Brewery before returning to the Waterstone.

The event is 6-10 p.m. Sept. 22. Cost is $150 per person, and information/reservations can be made at Bocahistory.org or by calling 561-395-6766, ext. 100.

Third and Third closes
Third and Third, a popular Delray Beach hideaway restaurant open since 2012, has closed. A spokesman from the restaurant said the lease had expired and the cost would have gone up substantially. It has no plans to reopen or move.

Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at nativefla@gmail.com.

 

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